In today’s article I’m going to outline the nutritional strategy that I’ve used over the past several years in order to gain appreciable strength and stay relatively lean and healthy. While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no John Berardi or Alan Aragon, most of us personal trainer/strength coach types still know a lot about nutrition in addition to strength training. Just like there are many different types of training programs that can lead to success, there are many different types of nutritional plans that can lead to success as well. One thing is for certain; a long-term eating plan has to suit the individual. While egg whites and plain oats may appeal to some, it doesn’t appeal to me. While many don’t mind steaming vegetables, I can’t stand it. I know I should do it, but I rarely do. However, I have a pretty good “system” as I really don’t like spending a lot of time preparing food as I prefer to spend time training, reading, and writing. Here is my system.
Getting Hormones to Work in Your Favor
For the natural lifter, you really need to control insulin and maximize testosterone levels. You can control insulin by limiting sugar consumption, limiting overall carbohydrate consumption, and consuming carbohydrates during select times during the day when high insulin release is warranted (breakfast, post-workout).
You can maximize natural testosterone levels by consuming adequate levels of monounsaturated and saturated fats and making sure you eat a well-balanced diet that is also high in important sex-hormone producing minerals such as zinc and magnesium.
1. Whole Eggs – eggs are great sources of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin A, B vitamins, and choline. Eggs are also one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D. Vitamin D is all the rage now, as recent research has shown that many individuals are deficient in vitamin D and that sufficient levels of vitamin D are critical for numerous reasons. I should point out that vitamin D is found in the egg yolk and there is only 20 iu’s per yolk which is around 5% of the RDA. Compare that to the 15,000 iu’s your body will make if you sunbathe in a pair of trunks for 15 minutes in mid-day summertime sun and you’ll quickly realize that getting some sun regularly is critical to proper vitamin D levels.
As for the whole “high levels of cholesterol in egg yolks make them bad for you” topic, there isn’t much truth to this claim. First, some evidence shows that whole eggs improve the HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio, which is a good thing. Second, cholesterol levels in the blood are highly genetic as the body manufactures cholesterol on it’s own. When cholesterol consumption increases, the body makes less of it. Third, it’s not just cholesterol consumption that raises cholesterol levels; saturated fat consumption in general can also increase cholesterol levels. Only 27% of the fat in eggs is saturated. Third, one study indicates that individuals don’t absorb much cholesterol from eggs anyway. Fourth, some studies show that eating up to two whole eggs per day does not increase the risk of heart disease. Fifth, eating a diet low in carbohydrates makes egg consumption even safer. Sixth, exercising and staying lean lowers cholesterol levels. Seventh, cholesterol consumption immediately following a workout increases testosterone levels even higher than normal. And eigth, there isn’t much evidence that links cholesterol levels to heart disease in the first place.
I usually eat between three and six eggs per day and I do not have elevated cholesterol levels. I do, however, have elevated levels of strength and muscle. Go figure!
2. Red Meat – say what you want but red meat is loaded with all types of goodies such as protein, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), zinc, iron, creatine, B-vitamins, taurine, carnitine, and carnosine. You need protein to build muscle, iron to avoid being anemic, and zinc to make testosterone. I try to eat red meat at least once per day.
3. Other Meat – Once per day I try to consume some non-red meat in the form of chicken, tuna, fish, turkey, shrimp, or ham. Protein is necessary for muscle-building, and meat contains a lot of vitamins and minerals in addition to a whole lotta protein.
4. Nuts and Seeds – Although each nut is unique, in general nuts contain a ton of healthy monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are critical for producing testosterone. They also contain fiber and protein. I eat a ton of macadamia nuts, almonds, and cashews. I try to eat walnuts every so often as they are high in Omega-3 fatty acids as well as pecans which are high in antioxidants. Nuts are also high in vitamins and minerals including vitamin E, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, and B vitamins. Although technically not a nut, I consume peanuts regularly as well.
I also eat several handfuls of sunflower seeds each day. In addition to containing fiber, protein, and polyunsaturated fat, sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E and magnesium. Magnesium is good for testosterone levels.
5. Yogurt – although yogurt is high in protein, calcium, and B vitamins, I eat two servings of yogurt nearly every day for its live bacteria. The saying “You are what you absorb” is more accurate than the popular saying, “You are what you eat.” Yogurt improves your gastrointestinal health so you can absorb food better, it improves your cholesterol profile, it strengthens your immune system, and it increases life-span. High calcium levels and yogurt in general have been linked to lower bodyfat levels. Calcium is important for strong bones and muscular contractions. A strong immune sysem prevents illness, which allows you to train consistently and not have to take time off due to sickness. Ever since I started eating yogurt regularly I don’t get sick nearly as often.
In comparison to regular yogurt, Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates which is ideal but it’s lower in calcium. Greek yogurt is also higher in pribiotics (good bacteria) but unfortunately it’s more expensive.
6. Fruit – I always eat some fruit during the day for a couple of key reasons. First, I have a serious sweet-tooth. If not for fruit on hand I’d probably go for less healthy snacks. Second, they’re high in vitamins (especially vitamin C which is great for the immune system), minerals, and polyphenols. Polyphenols help you live longer and improve arterial health which is good for strength training and sexual activity. They also act as antioxidants and may decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer. Third, fruit is high in potassium. Potassium can lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension. Some evidence shows that potassium can help spare muscle and prevent catabolism. And fourth, I don’t eat a lot of vegetables so I need to get my phytochemicals and fiber through nuts, seeds, and fruit. On a side note, I don’t consume a ton of fiber. I justify this because I currently have great digestive health, plus increased fiber consumption decreases testosterone production. So I’m not too worried about it.
Although the fruit that I eat often tends to be high-glycemic, I consume the fruit at the same time I consume fatty foods such as nuts, seeds, meat, and oils, which slows down the digestion of the fruit. I typically eat a handful or two of raisins each day and either a banana or a glass of orange juice.
7. Shakes – I consume one to two “shakes” per day consisting of whey protein, flax seed oil, and skim milk. Whey protein is the best source of protein available and is good for the immune system, flax seed oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and is good for the heart, and skim milk is high in protein and calcium. This concoction also acts as an appetite suppressant to help prevent overeating.
In each “shake” I mix together around a cup of skim milk, a scoop of whey protein powder (around 22 grams of protein per scoop), and around a tablespoon of flax seed oil.
8. Olive oil
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat which is good for testosterone levels. Whenever I cook eggs, I smother the pan with olive oil. Olive oil is heart-healthy, artery healthy, high in polyphenols and antioxidants, good for controlling hypertension and inflammation, and reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
9. Diet Green tea
Green tea contains EGCG, a powerful polyphenol/antioxidant that not only prevents the growth of cancer cells but also kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissues. ECGC also lowers bad cholesterol, prevents strokes and heart attacks, and may slightly elevate the metabolism.
I eat around six times per day. I believe that this boosts my metabolism and is simply a healthy way to live. Research indicates that it’s not necessary to eat this frequently for metabolic boosting, but nearly every person I’m aware of who has a good physique eats frequently. Until we know more, I’m sticking with frequent meals as they also help prevent overeating. If I go too long without food I’m liable to eat an entire carton of ice cream!
I try to consume adequate levels of protein in all six meals throughout the day.
When I’m being strict, I usually consume two cheat meals throughout the week consisting of whatever food I want. I don’t, however, go all out and eat til I’m ready to puke.
When I’m trying to gain weight, I tend to cheat every single day. In fact, I cheat nearly all day long. I eat more sugary yogurt, cereal, bread, oatmeal, pasta, pizza, cheeseburgers, rice, potatoes, cheese, fatty meats, more juices and dried fruit, and even cookies and chips. It all depends on my phase. I would estimate that I eat clean around half of the time and not-so-clean the other half of the time. When I’m not eating clean, I still eat all of the foods I mentioned above. I just get a bunch of additional calories from other foods.
If I go to a movie, I often get popcorn. If I go to a game, I get a hotdog. If I go on a date, I eat appetizers and dessert (in addition to my meal). If I go out to eat with my friends, I get a burger and fries, wings, or pizza. If I go out on the weekend, I drink beer. If I’m on vacation, I go all out. Life is too short to miss out on great food. This is why it’s important to eat clean on “normal” days; so you can cheat when out in public and enjoy what life has to offer. It’s important to be healthy, but could you imagine Clint Eastwood saying, “Oh my god I can’t eat that! It has carbs in it.” Sometimes you gotta be a man and pig out!
Here are the supplements I take:
1. Creatine – Creatine helps you train harder and squeeze in an extra rep at the end of a set, it increases satelite cell activity, increases IGF-1 levels, decreases myostatin activity, and increases the DHT:Testosterone ratio. Increased strength and hypertrophy. What more could you ask for? I take one scoop per day (5 grams).
2. Multivitamin/mineral – Insurance policy. Plain and simple. I take one pill per day.
3. Fish oil – Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids and helps prevent cancer, heart disease, and pretty much every bad thing in existence.
4. Coenzyme Q10 – I take one pill of CoQ10 each day, which may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, in addition to increasing life-span.
5. Grapeseed extract – I take one pill of grapeseed extract per day, which may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, in addition to increasing life-span.
So there you have it. This is how I eat. If you follow the same plan, you might be able to look just like me!